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In Nero Wolfe "Before I die", the gangster's sidekick asks for spaghetti and gravy. After Wolfe's chef Fritz prepares him spaghetti with the type of gravy used for roast beef, it turns out that the gangster meant tomato sauce when he said gravy. Looking on the internet there is a lot of confirmation that some Italian-Americans use "spaghetti and gravy" to mean spaghetti with a tomato-based sauce, for example discussions like this:


At the bottom there is an answer like so:

I think the Italian Immigrants in New Jersey put their own spin on a lot of things.... [Gravy] is an Italian American invention. I never heard red sauce called gravy until I roomed in college with my Italian roomate from Hoboken.

I also find at http://www.seriouseats.com/talk/2008/01/sunday-gravy-anyone-have-a-great-recipe-for-i.html

Gravy is one of those words where Italian immigrants picked the closest word to their native word. My father was born in Naples (Italy, not Florida) and called it gravy. That's good enough for me.

Can anyone confirm or deny this? What is the origin of using gravy to mean spaghetti sauce?

(Apologies for yet another spaghetti question.)

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Can't help you with the origin, but on "The Sopranos", which is my gospel for Italian-American trivia, they referred to the red sauce as gravy a lot. –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Sep 3 '10 at 12:50
A Google image search for “sunday gravy” shows a ton of pictures of meat in a red tomato sauce. –  nohat Oct 12 '10 at 15:50
This also might be an interesting question for cooking.stackexchange.com ;) –  malach Oct 13 '10 at 14:00

1 Answer 1

I googled "Gravy Etymology" and found this link which says that "gravy is a subset of sauces made from meat essence" and it goes on to say that Italian-Americans use the word to refer to tomato-and-meat sauce. Other forums I saw suggested that unless the sauces has a meat base it shouldn't be called gravy.

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